I often contemplate "what ifs", "should'ves" and how things might have ended if happenings had not happened, or were altered by mankind, social pressures, the government or fate. I combine personal experiences and observations, then twist the information. My “Thinking Outloud” allows me to apply writing styles and plots to create short stories, while I continue to work on my current novel.
It was dark and he wasn't sure just how this happened; working on a scaffold type device, fitting an extension post in place and the next thing he’s in the dark, and alone. The day had started just as anyone would have expected, like the previous day. He had popped out of the bunk with no effort, and then had a cup of coffee. Remembering back to breakfast he recalled that everyone had practically finished before he had sat foot on the deck and almost no one noticed when he entered the kitchen area. While scrounging up some food Bogdan Petrov, a Russian with chiseled abs locked eyes with him, mumbled Черт кофе! (“Damn coffee”), knocked fists with the American and walked out the door. Finally he was able to collect some eggs, a piece of bread, a container of water and sat down. Several others on the team finished eating and exited through the door.
Still thinking about the moment he recalled Abaigael, the new girl from Israel sat with him and the conversation was just general conversation; “How are you?”, “How long did you train?” - Chit-chat one would expect from a new acquaintance. A smile came across his face when he recalled her soft, mysterious blue eyes. But just as quickly as the memory entered his mind he snapped back to reality.
He thought, “I’m in a dark place, my movement seems to be restricted, and I cannot feel my arms or legs.” He tried to move his arms but could feel no movement. In fact, it seemed that all sensing of his body was shutdown, or at least not feeling external force.
“I’m a scientist, the logical thing is to think through the earlier parts of the day so I can deduce what has happened and get the heck out of here.” As he prepared to scientifically exclude factors he found himself returning to one determining question…
“Am I alone?”
In the languages of several team members he cried out, “Hello!” (English), “Привет!” (Russian),“Olá” (Portuguese), and “Bonjour” (French).
There was no answer, not a sound. Thoughts raced through his mind while considering the alternatives. “Am I dead and don’t know it? Have I been in an auto accident and left unconscious?”
“What the hell is going on?” he mumbled, followed by the thought that maybe he didn’t say it at all.
A flood of thoughts racing through his mind turned into fear as he considered another alternative, “Maybe I’m not dead but only left to die…”
“What could be worse?”
His immediate response was, “Not Dead!”
He had screamed the answer out loud to himself. “Nothing could be worse than not being dead and having to be here, not knowing when I will die…”
“…wherever this is”. The last part of his statement trailed off into a whisper.
He continued his contemplation of the situation and said in almost a condescending tone, to himself, Well who are you talking to…”.
“Oh no, I’m talking to myself…..”.
“Of course I’m talking to myself. There’s not a damn human in sight, or within earshot of me either.” He squeezed his eyes tight, in a sort of sarcastic attempt at coming to reality, or when a person tries to hold back tears.
A couple shallow breaths were exercised and then he tried to move his arms again, with no real result. Twitching his lips and nose proved that obviously he was not paralyzed, or at least not completely paralyzed - but still neither arm nor leg would move.
This was a nightmare existence – Dying, or dead; awake or asleep? Something had to change. There must be an explanation.
Breathing; an autonomic process had turned into an inhaling and more laborious pushing of air out of his lungs seemed to require more of a deliberate action.
In, out; In, out.
His eyes batted once, and then twice assuring himself that if needed he could communicate with a doctor. Nobody would bury him alive, “I can communicate!” he assured himself.
Existing in what most people would consider some form of a suspended animation, he let his mind wander into a morbid, or even a macabre side of his personality - a side that was frightening as the only person present interrogated him with the most repulsive questions (frightening even to this author).
“Can I kill myself by not breathing?” He had always heard that a person could not hold his breath and commit suicide. So he tried it. “Inhale” he thought. “OK, don’t let it go.” and he continued this morbid attempt by not letting out the breath that he had dramatically filled his lungs with 15 seconds prior.
Mentally he counted 20, 25, 30 seconds. “Hold it, hold it, hold it” he mentally repeated, almost as an encouraging chant.
Continuing, “50, 55 seconds” he mentally cheered himself on to destruction
Time ticked away while he continued what he believed to be a selfless attempt at escaping hell. “1 minute 45 seconds he counted”, but now his lungs were starting to burn within and he started to think, “This is not going to work.”
‘Whoosh’, he exhaled and both lungs emptied and then like a child gulping down a piece of candy, his lungs were flooded with oxygen. “Nope, that won’t work” he thought, “…I was finally right about something.”
He tried to rotate his waist and buttocks, thinking that if he was laying down his body would flip over, still no success.
“Maybe I’m inside a coffin!” he screamed. “Maybe they have already buried me alive and I’m really going to die!” His pulse started to race at an unbelievable rate for a human, it was as-if he had the heart of a hummingbird.
“A hummingbird’s heart can beat between 250-1,250 times a minute”, he recalled.
“Maybe I’m not a human. I’m a damn bird and this is how we think.” His respiration rate started to increase and now he felt as if he would expel everything in his stomach – but it did not happen, instead he blacked out.
He opened his eyes to darkness - again. Thoughts quickly raced through his head as he realized nothing had changed. Fingers and toes still moved ever so slightly, legs and arms did nothing, but he could still speak and move his eyes.
“I AM IN HELL!”, he screamed to an immediate dampening of his voice. It was as if there was no air to transmit the sound waves of his voice.
An unmeasured period of time passed and then he thought, “Air is important, what if there is not enough air in this coffin to keep me alive until they realize I'm alive?”
At this point he could not slow his breathing, and his pulse continued at a hummingbird speed. Continuing to identify and consider the options he recalled a technique from his doctorate program called self-speak. The idea is that when under stress, or when finding oneself in a situation of intense pressure many people either speak out loud as an encouraging person, or a mental relation is formed. It is believed that speaking to oneself in a positive manner, confuses or tricks the subconscious into acting as an encourager and results in a person responding in a more positive manner.
Now, he had already engaged in self-conversation. Almost all of the instances exercised were self-conversation, but he had only been talking negatively. To stop his heart from exploding, and to stop from losing his mind he needed something more, positive self-talk.
Immediately he started to think of good, personal times; his wife, kids, and how he had always sought adventure. This was no different. He recalled how his educational experience had been nothing but fun and preparation for challenges, like his current assignment. Then he started to repeat within his mind, “I am OK, I am OK, I am OK.”
As this exercise continued his pulse and respiration both started to drop. While the two physiological indices slowed, his mind wavered between consciousness and sleep. He flashed back to earlier days when he was a young boy growing-up on a farm, where his parents raised horses. While drifting between light and darkness he recalled his first exposure to engineering and the study of design.
With his mind beginning to speed through thoughts and life experiences, similar to daydreams and at what seemed to be equal to the speed of light, he viewed himself on a first date with his wife Abaigael. There she was smiling and laughing, the two of them were running across a field and up a hill. Two dogs were running along side the couple barking, while butterflies encircled the entire picture. It was as-if he was asleep.
His thoughts had stopped, similar to a DVD being put on pause. Something caused him to look away in his mind’s-eye. Yet he was drawn back to Abaigael and the image that was in front of him.
A light shimmered across the picturesque scene; the warmth of this surrounding was intense within his mind. Abaigael was beautiful, and it was a sublime memory of things that had……………
He opened his eyes and thought, “This is not real. Abby and I have never been in a place like that and we never had dogs.”
At that moment he noticed a light to the left of his visual periphery. Holding his breath, like a child playing hide-and-seek, his raised eyelids attempted to look as far to the left as possible (since he could not move his arms, legs, or head). Only the light could be seen, and the light was growing more intense as seconds ran together to equal minutes. He tried to continue a slow, deep breathing technique so as to keep the 2 indices slowed, but the emotion of anticipation could not be controlled.
He thought, “Is this the end? Is this the light at the end of the tunnel so many people refer to when they have reported near-death experiences? Maybe I’m having a heart attack, or suffering from a brain aneurysm.”
Menacingly the light continued to become brighter, but there was nothing he could do. He stood there, or maybe he was lying down (he could not be sure), a victim to whatever fate had in-store.
“Maybe I am not here, maybe I am really dead and this is just some sort of weird trip to the end.”
A breath later, it seemed the United States space shuttle Discovery drifted into view. Several astronauts who were peering out a hatch drifted into his view, waving and jumping up-and-down. In a few moments 2 astronauts exited the shuttle bay and floated freely toward him. Once reached, moving him to the shuttle was an effortless maneuver.
According to the crew’s extravehicular debriefing documentation the astronaut had been outside the shuttle working on the base of a new arm extension when he twisted a torque device to secure two pins and collided with an arm tether. When this happened his computerized Soviet Orlan-MK spacesuit became blocked, or as noted in the shuttle documents, “The flexible elbow-protection material became imbedded in the tether. When the team member pulled his arm away his cranial protection impacted with the side of the orbiter, rendering him unconscious. At the same time the astronaut spun slowly out-of-control away, from the space ship.”
The same records revealed that the darkness reported by the astronaut was the result of his being physically turned away from the shuttle, the Earth and the sun. His line-of-sight prevented a view of the moon and sun, so basically he was gazing into space when his eyes were open. The collision with the tether caused the communication device within his suit to malfunction which of course prevented his hearing the other space travelers who were indeed responding to his calls for help.
The entire event, from collision to rescue lasted 27 minutes.
** Author Insight **
Several things contributed to my creation of this blog installment.
#1. Two weeks ago I read a newspaper article about a young man drowning in a local lake, which in turn caused me to recall something I’ve considered many times; How alone does a person feel during the period when the inevitable is realized and before they pass-away? How alone does a person feel before they die in any type situation? Of course none of us can stop another’s death, but I feel connected in this manner with any death I learn has taken place.
#2. Many people in their day-to-day life feel alone, even when surrounded by people. Help is not even a space shuttle away, yet they can’t see it? Or maybe they know it but help doesn’t seem to be within reach.
My self-imposed assignment for this blog post was to reach-in myself and empathetically touch the emotion of what happens behind the uncertainty of alone. I did experience emotions that do not take place on a regular day; I hope that this post caused you to think about it too. Let me know what you think. If anyone has issues with being alone and you'd like to discuss it, tweet me (send a direct message to _andybryant).
Have a nice evening.